UK Politics

Tory MP Jake Berry calls for new criminal offence of breast ironing

Jake Berry

The government has been urged to introduce a new criminal offence of breast ironing in the UK to protect young girls from the abuse.

The practice involves using hot objects to pound and massage girls' breasts to try to stunt their growth in the belief it makes them less sexually attractive.

MP Jake Berry said about 1,000 girls in the UK were thought to be affected by the "abhorrent practice".

The government said police could charge culprits with a range of offences.

Home Office minister Karen Bradley said the government was "absolutely committed" to putting a stop to the practice.

But she admitted "certain professionals" still felt reticent about tackling such practices because of "cultural sensitivities" - and said they needed to be given the confidence to take action.

'Unimaginable pain'

Opening the debate in the Commons, Mr Berry said breast ironing was believed to have originated in Cameroon but cases had also been found in Nigeria, Benin, Chad "and Birmingham and London".

He said it was "hard to prove its extent or prevalence in the UK" because, like female genital mutilation (FGM), the fact the practice "most often carried out by a family member" meant it was "hidden".

According to a UN report, 58% of perpetrators were the victims' own mothers.

The MP for Rossendale and Darwen said girls as young as 10 were subjected to "unimaginable pain and suffering" and exposed to potential health problems including cancer, infection and cysts.

"Hot stones, hammers and spatulas are used twice a day for several weeks or months to stop or delay and in some cases permanently destroy the natural development of the breast," he said.

Culture, tradition and religion were often used to justify the practice, Mr Berry said, adding: "But just as in the case of FGM these words are a thinly veiled excuse for a ritualised form of child abuse." It had "no place in any society", he said.

'Cultural sensitivities'

Mr Berry said 15% of UK police forces had no awareness of breast ironing and 23% of local children's services were not trained to deal with it, with 65% saying they would welcome more guidance.

"If we fail to let them have the tools they require to identify and understand the victims of this crime, we will never be able to tackle it," he told the Commons.

"My understanding is that there is currently no stand-alone crime of breast ironing in the UK, with police and prosecutors relying on the existing pool of criminal offences available to them.

"Just like with FGM, this... is not an adequate protection for young women and girls in our country," the MP added.

Image copyright HoC
Image caption Home Office minister Karen Bradley said breast ironing was "child abuse"

Home Office minister Karen Bradley said there was a range of offences available to the police to tackle the crime including common assault, child cruelty and grievous bodily harm.

"What we're talking about is child abuse, it is illegal, it is a crime, it is not acceptable.

"I want to assure the House that the government fully understands this and is absolutely committed to putting a stop to it," she said.

Pressed over the role of schools in tackling such harmful practices, the minister said "there are certain professionals who may feel reticent about this".

She added: "They may feel that somehow there are cultural sensitivities, there are political reasons why they shouldn't go there.

"This is simply not the case and we need to give those professionals the confidence to know that this is something that they should be looking for, that they know what the signs are and that they take action because that is what we all need to do."